Mooring Ball Chaos, Boulder Spewing Volcanoes – Welcome to the Aeolian Islands!

It is said that the Aeolian are a living myth where fire, water and wind along with the mix of cultures from the numerous civilizations have made these islands a true inspiration.  In 2000, they were named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our first stop in this archipelago, was the island of Vulcano.  We had arranged for a mooring buoy for the next 3 days after seeing some strong winds headed our way over a two day period.  Not only was it a good thing we came in early, it was also good that we reserved a buoy ahead of time.  When we first pulled in and told the marinero we would be staying 3 days, he informed us we could not because they were booked full.  We told him that we had made a reservation and were told 3 days would be okay.  He said we were good and all was well.  Whew!  From our mooring, we had a spectacular view of the volcano.  The island has black sand beaches, mud baths and thermal springs.  Some of the beaches have underwater fumeroles that bubble up to the surface.  If you are not careful, it is very easy to burn yourself.  One in particular was extremely bubbly and had been buoyed off to keep swimmers out.  Dan got as close as he dared and shot some video.  The mud baths were also shut down, and it was very evident as to why (the mud was a bubbly cauldron that looked ready to boil you alive).  Unfortunately, all this geothermal activity makes the island smell horrid.  You cannot escape the overpowering sulfur smell that burrows so deep into your nostrils you can actually taste it!  Gag!

Zoe in the mooring ball field – secure – or so we thought

The next day, we headed through town to the volcano in order to hike to the top. We arrived at the entrance at 11:00 and were greeted by a big red light.  The sign very clearly stated that hiking was prohibited after 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  Dan was not happy, and stated that we were going anyway.  Now I was not happy.  It’s pretty clear who is the rebel, and who is the religious rule follower.  He stated he was going anyway and would meet up with me later.  Fine by me.  Did I mention that it was already really hot?  He ended up changing his mind while bemoaning the stupidity of arbitrary times the whole way back to town.  We decided that we would try again at 4:00 p.m.  Instead, we opted to rent a scooter and explore the island.  We spent a few hours driving the island, doing some hiking, and taking in all the beautiful sights.  We returned the scooter and started back up toward the volcano.  I know this is going to come as a great shock… was even hotter than it had been at 11:00!  We decided it was just too hot, and thought we would try one more time early in the morning.  We headed back to Zoe to relax before dinner.

That red light over Robyn’s left shoulder? Meant no hiking the volcano for us!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Scooter rental on a sketchy road on a volcano
Dan enjoying the view on a scooter stop
“If you see dead animals or withering of trees…..RUN!”
The mud baths – which were closed during our visit – with supposedly curative properties
Video of carbon dioxide spewing from the sea bed near Zoe

At this point, we have spent the last few days pitching around in 2 foot rollers that come into the anchorage from the non-stop flow of huge, high speed ferries.  It has also been very windy, and Zoe has been bouncing around on her mooring ball.  As I began to prepare dinner, Dan kept hearing some odd banging noises.  We checked, nothing looked amiss. He decided to go below deck to get cleaned up since he had a 7:00 p.m. business call.  All of a sudden, I noticed we had made a very odd pivot.  We were now 90 degrees different than everyone else on mooring balls or anchored… weird.  I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that something odd was happening.  By this point, Dan is below and completely naked (of course, or the story wouldn’t be near as entertaining)!  All of a sudden, Dan’s anchor alarm starts blaring.  We don’t usually set an anchor alarm on a mooring ball, but with the earlier high winds Dan thought it would be a good idea.  He’s yelling up to me to turn it off, but I can’t get into his iPad.  I run down below and he gives me the code to open it and turn it off.  Hmmmm, why do we look so far away from our original position?  The winds had calmed down by this point. Sometimes we get a GPS error, so maybe that’s it.  I head back up and notice we are oddly close to a pocket cruiser that was off to our side.  Uh oh.  I assume we have broken free from our mooring and run to the bow.  Everything looks normal!  The floats are below the water line at the center of the boat, our lines are still tied to them and creaking against the hulls (under strain).  Next thing I know, the marinero is racing out to us on his dinghy telling me to start the motors.  I run back and fire up the engines.  No time to call for Dan, but I know the engines firing up is going to signal to him that something is very wrong!  The marinero has me throttle forward, but Zoe barely moves.  I give her a lot more gas, and we slowly lumber forward.  Dan has hastily dressed and is back on deck and I tell him what little I know.  Now, we have 2 high powered tenders helping to push us all over the mooring field.  Of course, everyone is out on their decks watching the spectacle that we are (my favorite thing).  Between our engines and their powerful tenders we are moving forward and backward.  When we finally stop, they explained to us that the entire concrete block moved with us and when it hit deeper water, it was no longer holding us in place.  Seriously?!  The wind and our weight moved the entire mooring block?  We sat for a bit feeling very uneasy.  Before long, the marineros were back.  They told us they were moving us to a different buoy.  Of course, the winds were up, and we were being moved into a very tight spot surrounded by other boats that required us to be bow and stern tied.  We were finally settled in for the night, Dan took his call late, and dinner was horribly overcooked.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning, we headed for the island of Lipari.  We grabbed a mooring buoy here as well (hoping the last incident was a “one and done”), since the anchorages are quite deep and very busy.  3 marineros met us on their tender, one boarded us, and they proceeded to bow and stern tie us.  We had two lines to our bow and two to our stern, tightly locking us in place.  They handled everything!  Boy, I could get use to being spoiled like this.  We were tucked into this little cove surrounded by stunning rock cliffs.  Off in the distance, we had a great view of the castle.  We had planned to only spend 1 night here, but I talked Dan in to staying two.  Once we were settled in, Dan and I headed into the main part of town and wandered the quaint little streets lined with restaurants, shops, and boutiques.  The main street is lined with a variety of tiny, cobblestoned alleys where the locals live.  From there, we headed down to the waterfront to rent a scooter.  We spent 3 hours exploring mountain top views, cute little villages, rugged cliff top trails through interesting rock formations, and beautiful churches perched high on the hills.  We returned to Zoe in the heat of the day and relaxed until we headed back into town for an amazing seafood dinner.  I have never had any interest in sardines and anchovies at home, but in this part of the world, they are quite yummy and becoming a frequent part of our diet.  Lipari is the largest island in the archipelago and the most populated.  In the town and close by there are numerous excavations uncovering a multitude of human civilizations.  There are ruins and remains spanning dozens of ages of man from prehistoric through Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, and the Spanish.  Within the grounds of the castle walls are numerous museums housing these incredible archeological finds.  Our second day here, we spent several hours exploring the castle walls, numerous churches, archeological sites, and several of the museums housing incredible artifacts from many civilizations and time periods.  Unfortunately, as beautiful as our little mooring field was, it was also inside the main “highway” of large ferries and tour boats which means we spent 24 hours a day bouncing around in 2 foot swells.  It’s probably a good thing we don’t have guests yet since this would likely make someone seasick.

Full service mooring ball field!
With a high crosswind, a marinero used his tender to keep us in position
All tied up and enjoying the picturesque surroundings
Lipari’s castle
Exploring the castle grounds
Lipari and it’s picturesque alleyways
Ornate church in the Castle
Roman Amphorae on display in the museum
Guard house high on the castle walls
View of the neighboring island of Salina
Boarding the tender for our ride back to Zoe

From Lipari, we headed to the island of Stromboli, but first we made a short stop at the small island of Bottaro.  The sole purpose of this stop was to swim the many bubbling fumeroles coming up from the sea floor.  Needless to say, it was very crowded.  We finally found a small patch of sand amongst the many boats and anchored Zoe.  We jumped in the water and swam over to the area of the most active bubbling springs.  They were definitely quite impressive to see.  Once we had our fill, we picked up anchor and continued on our way to Stromboli.  This island is known as the world’s oldest lighthouse as it has a continuous eruptions every 15-20 minutes.  Stromboli is the furthest most island in the archipelago and only inhabited by about 500 people in the summer.  Many do not stay in the winter due to the isolation.  Between sunset at 2:00 p.m., nasty winds and high seas, they become somewhat trapped here with the inability to safely get boats in and out.  There is no water here on the island, so it is brought in by a huge tanker.  Talk about your island fever!  

Approaching the island of Bottaro with a view of Stromboli in the distance
The open water carbon dioxide fumaroles of Bottaro
Front row seats to volcanic activity

We had made arrangements to hike up the volcano to a viewing spot with a guided tour group a few hours after we arrived.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about this endeavor.  Not for fear of the volcano but for the 400 m (1300+ ft) ascent in 2.1 miles.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been hiking and even longer since we’ve done that kind of elevation.  We met at the top of the hill in front of a beautiful church.  Coming from Zoe, it was a 150 m (almost 500 ft) to the meeting point.  Hmmmm…..was that included in the 400 m climb?  I might be okay (although I was already hot and tired).  Of course it didn’t!  Up, up, up we went. Our first water break was in a very old cemetery high on the cliffs.  Apparently there had been a cholera outbreak in 1884, and this was where many of the bodies were buried….far from town.  As we continued on, there were steep climbs in slippery volcanic ash and winding switchbacks through dense forests of sugar cane and caper bushes.  It was still quite hot despite a 5:30 p.m. departure and by the time we arrived at the viewing area, we were drenched in sweat.  The hike was timed to arrive just before sunset in order to get the best viewing once the sun went down.  Not long before we reached our final destination, you could hear the rumbling of the volcano.  Once we reached the viewing area, we settled in to watch the show.  We were treated to an amazing view of the sunset over the islands, and then the mighty power of this active volcano.  Every 15-20 minutes fire and spark spewed into the air with flying boulders of fire and a rumbling that shook you to  your core.  Wow!  It was amazing!  We spent several hours making our way back down in the dark, arriving back in town at 11:00 p.m.  We were both sore and exhausted, but it was so worth the experience.  We dragged the dinghy off the beach and into the water to make our way back to Zoe.  I was quite shocked when I opened up the boat.  Platters were strewn about the floor, a bottle of wine was toppled over, my spice rounder was toppled with jars of spices scattered all over the counter top.  What the hell had happened while we were gone?!?  Had we been broken into?  Nothing appeared to be missing.  So the next question was…..what the hell had come through to make a wake big enough to trash our galley area?  We’ve been in plenty of rough seas and nothing had ever caused that much chaos inside the boat.  Despite the late hour of the night, we cracked open an ice cold beer to enjoy before heading to bed.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep since the mooring field had us rocking pretty violently through the night.  There really wasn’t any wind, so we are still not sure what caused all these rollers.  Unfortunately, Dan’s anchor alarm went off several times, and after our incident in Vulcano, we did not ignore it which meant we were up repeatedly making sure everything was normal.  It was.

Zoe in the Stromboli mooring ball field
Dinghy stowed on shore and hiking gear being prepped
Our hiking target for today -the active caldera of Stromboli!
Many others had the same idea!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Quite the fireworks show…fire and massive boulders hurled into the air!

We had mixed emotions about leaving Stromboli after only one day but decided that another night of violent pitching around did not sound like much fun.  We left fairly early the next morning and cruised the west side of Stromboli where the activity is most visible.  Although we could not see the fire and sparks in the brightness of day, we were treated to the rumbling and spewing smoke (and an occasional boulder plummeting to the sea).  Still, quite an impressive sight.  Our next destination was the island of Salina.  This was another quaint little seaside village.  In the evening, we headed in to explore the village.  We tied our dinghy in the marina and threw out a stern anchor which we had just replaced in Lipari.

Leaving Stromboli and heading to Salina
A daytime view of the active part of the volcano we had hiked the night before
Stromboli in our wake…

  You put a stern anchor out to help keep the boat from surging into the dock or rock wall that you are tied to.  After wandering the very expensive little town, we headed back to our dinghy.  Dan pulled up the line to the stern anchor, and the anchor was missing.  Are you kidding me?  The bowline he had secured it with was still in tact. That doesn’t make any sense.  The only thing we can figure is that the shackle came loose freeing the line.  Sure enough, below our dinghy in about 2 meters of water lay our anchor.  The sun was already down, so it was getting harder to see.  Dan decided we’d go back to the boat so he could get his swimsuit on and then come back.  Ummmm, why?  By the time we get back, it will be dark and impossible to see.  Plus, someone else might spot the anchor and take it themselves.  My suggestion…..strip to your skivvies.  They are black and look like a swimsuit from a distance.  So, off came the clothes, over the side he went, and anchor retrieved.  Yes, we had a good laugh about that one.

Charming town on the island of Salina
Dinghy check… dinghy anchor- gone!

We decided to make one final stop in the Aeolian islands before heading to the northern side of Sicily.  We headed out to the island furthest west in the archipelago, Alicudi.  This island is the least developed for tourism (definitely my kind of place).  Since Alicudi is so exposed to wind and swell from all directions, and lacks any safe shelter, you should only go there in very calm conditions.  Since it is the top of a volcano, the depths drop extremely fast, and there are not a lot of secure anchorages.  Because of this, we decided to take a mooring ball once again.  This island is a very picturesque mountain soaring steeply into the sky.  The island only has about 150 inhabitants living on the terraced slopes of the mountain.  There is only one road that is 200 meters long running from the small pier to the helicopter pad.  Everything up the hill is transported along cobblestoned paths by donkeys.  It is quite a sight to see.  Dan and I hoofed it up some of the hill to explore an old church and were exhausted.  I can’t imagine having to hoof it up to some of the beautiful houses that were perched much, much higher than where we were standing.  There really was nothing much to this island other than it’s natural beauty.  By the end of the evening, we were joined by many boats.  It was another unrestful night.  For some reason, the mooring lines had been made extremely long which allowed all of us to stretch way further than necessary.  By morning, our neighbor’s dinghy was banging on our hull as I watched the stern of his boat pass within a couple feet of the side of our boat.  Time to go!  Dan and I dropped lines and headed out.

Approaching the island of Alicudi
Almost a perfect volcanic cone – the depths around the island drop quick!
With only one road, donkeys were the only way to move goods around the island.
Definitely putting the burden in “Beast of Burden”!
Drone shot of the really steep island of Alicudi with Zoe in the foreground

In 8 days, we had explored 5 of the 7 Aeolian islands.  The next time we see you, we will be on the north coast of Sicily.  Stay tuned for some exciting new sights and adventures!

Leaving Alicudi with a fishing line out – fingers crossed!
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Audrey St Clair
Audrey St Clair
10 months ago

Love reading about your adventures!

Tom Strebel
Tom Strebel
10 months ago

I hope you will be taking some pasta making courses while in Italy. As for Sicily, the pistachios are famous, and you must get some pistachio gelato. They also have some famous lemon dishes and lemon sorbetto is a must. Love all of this!

Jim Krueger
Jim Krueger
10 months ago

Really enjoyed reading your latest blog, amazing! I can see that everything doesn’t always go as planned on the high seas. Can’t wait till your next post, be safe!

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